AFF 2012 Interview: Elizabeth Mims, 'Only the Young'
Stopping at Austin Film Festival on a festival circuit, Only the Young is a look at a relationship between three evangelical teens in suburban Southern California: two skaters who are best pals and their female friend (sometime girlfriend of one of the guys). Austinite Elizabeth Mims is one of the directors of this documentary, and answered a few questions I had before watching the film.
Slackerwood: What is your connection to Austin?
Elizabeth Mims: I grew up in Austin and my family lives here. I even went to Austin High. I adore this town and I'm thrilled the film is playing here.
You co-directed Only the Young with Jason Tippet. How did the two of you meet?
Mims: Jason and I met while going to CalArts. After showing our work to the class it was clear we shared some stylistic choices. Together at CalArts we developed a style first by making a short documentary, Thompson. When embarking on the feature we already had an understanding of what worked from the short.
How did you decide that these Christian skater kids would be good documentary subjects? How much time was spent following these teens?
Mims: We decided that Garrison and Kevin would be good documentary subjects from the moment we met them. While checking out the new skatepark the kids approached us asking if we had lost keys to a Jag. These punk looking kids were making an effort to find the owner rather than just hunting for the car themselves in the parking lot... or throwing the keys over a fence as many of my high school peers would have attempted. It was also clear that Kevin and Garrison had been friends for a long time, speaking to each other in confident unconcerned tones that only come with years of friendship.
Was there ever a period of time when the kids got upset or uncomfortable with you filming them, or were they easygoing throughout the process?
Mims: For the most part the kids seemed comfortable with the camera around. Often they wanted to show us a new remote location they had found to skate.
However, there were days that the kids weren’t as excited to see us. Those days were the most difficult but often proved to be the most emotionally true scenes. Skye during the last days of staying in her home was going through an incredibly difficult time not knowing when she was going to move. The moment we showed up it seemed that we had come on a hard day. In the film this is when Skye tells us all her feelings of losing hope. As she develops and her father gets out of prison we build an evolving narrative where the audience is close and understanding of her situation.
Do you think that in our current reality-show-obsessed culture it is easier to make a film like this?
Mims: I think reality TV has made some form of documentary more accessible. I think, though, for us it was really important to let the kids know that unlike a show like True Life we weren’t going to influence them by forcing dramatic situations. Also it makes it clear for people that in filmmaking -- unless the director is extremely sensitive -- that their characters can be manipulated.
I haven’t seen the film yet, but in the trailer (see above), your documentary has a narrative feel. How did you go about creating that?
Mims: We created more of a narrative feel mostly in editing and how we chose to do our interviews. Talking heads has always been something that’s hard to avoid in documentary, however we found that if we shot the kids in two shots they would eventually begin speaking to each other rather than us. Inevitably that was more interesting and led itself to a dialogue that feels similar to a narrative. We also used color correction to change the color temperatures throughout the film to build on the changes in emotions and relationships.